Milos Raonic on “emotional” return to tennis

The last time Milos Raonic played a match on Tour was in Atlanta in July, he was ranked number 22 in the world and the year was 2021. He was returning from an injury layoff that started back in March of that year.

The last time Raonic played at Wimbledon, he was ranked 17th in the world, reached the second week and the year was 2019. Now, at the age of 32 and ranked as low as No. 840, it’s been a long time. the canadian has been able to play on tour and as he explained on sunday he had no real idea how it would go but he will really enjoy it.

“It’s exciting, it’s fun,” he said. “There are a lot of ups and downs through it all over the course of two years where you’ve been injured and stopped completely and step away from tennis. You go through a lot of ups and downs in terms of trying to get motivated again to wanting to come back. I really distanced myself from it, I don’t think I saw a point of tennis really until about Miami or Indian Wells this year. And then I started training and getting ready, was in the gym every morning, so then you start looking at the screen over your shoulder a little more, interest me in scores, evaluate yourself by where you think you are.”

“You go through a lot of ups and downs in terms of trying to get motivated again to want to come back”

The road to Wimbledon 2023 was not easy for Raonic, who cut himself off from tennis completely for most of the two years as he tried to get over the Achilles injury.

“Some days you can feel good about yourself, but some days you doubt and question yourself about what level you can even play. You try to connect everything to how things were two, three, four or five years ago, but you also don’t have a realistic memory because it feels so far away. You just try to take it day by day but it’s hard and before you know it a lot of time goes by and you hope you’ve done the right work, been able to train well enough to get here , and hopefully could play good tennis.”

Raonic had only one tournament to prepare for Wimbledon: He won a match in ‘s-Hertogenbosch against Miomir Kecmanovic (6-3, 6-4) but then lost to Jordan Thompson (7-6(4), 6-1 ). Unfortunately, he had to give up his hopes of seeing the Queen’s tournament again due to a right shoulder injury.

He wants to think it was more a matter of rust than anything else. “I haven’t played tennis in two years… Humanity struck!” he said. “I played the first game and everything kind of felt okay, and I think a lot of it was also tension and nerves. Two years and not hitting a single ball in the first two months of the first year, so that kind of thing takes a bit of a toll. No matter how much you prepare in practice, there are things you can’t really replicate, like the excitement of a match, how badly you want to win and things like that.”

As a finalist at Wimbledon in 2016, he returns to his favorite surface. It’s easy to feel like he’s trying to play his favorite swing one last time. But he has not yet decided whether it was a farewell tour or a true comeback. “Right now I’m coming back to play here at Wimbledon one more time, coming back to play Toronto especially one more time, also coming back to the US Open and then I have to have a conversation with myself.”

Milos Raonic at Wimbledon in 2018
Milos Raonic at Wimbledon in 2018 © AI / Reuters / Panoramic

As is too often the case for Raonic, it’s a question of how much his body can take. And then how much his mind can take in the process of being injured and having to go back again and again. At 32, the Canadian has also seen that he was able to enjoy his life without tennis, so the question is: is the pain worth it?

I hadn’t played another top ATP player in two years, like seven days before I played sets for the first time in two years.

Milos Raonic

“It’s mostly in the past,” he says of the number of injuries that took him out of the game, most recently this Achilles problem. “It’s just that things come up at certain times and it’s unpredictable, so you just manage it as well as you can. Now, when it comes up, it’s not really at the point where it was when I stopped: Then I had days where I was just trying to get out of bed and it was just painful to walk. Achilles is tough because anytime you stand up there is always tension on it, it’s hard to avoid. I know I won’t be in a cast again for a while like I was at the end of 2021, but things come up and you always wonder if it’s still the injury or if it’s coming back into the rhythm of things, to stop and play.

“Also, I hadn’t played another top ATP player in two years, like seven days before I played sets for the first time in two years. You also try to speed up and catch up. I didn’t intend to do any of my prep on clay, but all the players were on clay, so it wasn’t easy to find people. Then you wonder what the level will be and whether you will be able to keep up. You just deal with it day by day.”

I’ll come back to play here one more time, Toronto one more time, also the US Open, and then I’ll have a conversation with myself.

Raonic on his future in tennis

Milos Raonic has never been the type to let his emotions speak for him. He has always been one of the hardest working players out there and has always tried to analyze everything that came his way to improve the small margins. Very rarely would you see him admit to any kind of emotional struggle.

“It’s a good thing that Wimbledon is completely different than it was in 2019, that you come in from a different gate, where the indoor courts are, so you don’t have all those memories,” he replied when asked , if it had been a bit emotional. walking around here after all he went through. “You get caught up in the other stuff and before you know it, you’re rushing to get to practice and you get caught up in the whole cycle of it. I don’t think you get that moment of reflection or admiration. I came here on Saturday and just thought I had ten days to get ready to play, so that took over the romance of it all.”

But people should not be fooled: there is a big heart under the cool exterior. So when he falters a little, when he’s spent a little more time throwing jokes around, you get an idea of ​​his true stress level before he starts at Wimbledon. “It’s going to be an emotional thing to go through here, but it’s impossible to get an idea of ​​how much. I could win my first match here, lose my first match here, I could walk away either way happy or sad .Measuring success last time I was here and now is completely different than how I would measure things now.”

The question still lingers – why did he come back? For a long time it looked like he was truly done with the game, and there’s no way his body is better able to handle the rigors of touring life now than it was in his 20s, when he already had a hard time. So what pushes him back? The touching thing is that Milos Raonic himself is not really sure of the answer. “I don’t know! I don’t think it’s anything specific”, he starts after a long pause.

“It’s just something you really miss in many moments, that you kind of wish it could be different. If someone told me tomorrow that I’m in too much pain and will never be able to play Wimbledon again, I don’t think I’d be devastated. I had two years to really get used to it being my life, and I’m lucky enough that, away from tennis, I’ve always had enough other interests to keep me busy and motivated in other ways. For me, it’s more about things being a little different and then also believing that I can play at a certain level. I don’t think I would have any interest in just being around and walking through the grounds of Wimbledon one more time. If I wanted to do it, I could have done it as a spectator and been perfectly happy.”

“You get really upset and frustrated and you ask yourself, why am I doing this?”

Raonic has always been the ultimate competitor and the ultimate perfectionist, and he spent almost his entire life putting those two traits to work through tennis. It is undoubtedly not easy to give up on it or to try to develop into something else.

And in the end, like many champions before him and many after him, it must also be about ending on his terms. Still, the former world No. 3 wasn’t sure he would be able to have this final chapter. “At one point, even through training, when I need time off to feel better, it took a week or ten days, so it’s difficult because you lose a lot of time and momentum. That defeats the point of training. There were many moments like that and then you get really upset and frustrated and you ask yourself, why am I doing this? But time passes, you get back on the field, you put your head down: you can sometimes have a very short memory and you just keep working.”

Raonic may have been away from the game for two years, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have an opinion about tennis and tour life. And he couldn’t help but watch that Djokovic – Alcaraz semi-final in Paris. He has always been quite close to Djokovic and knows so well how the Serb’s mind works: he never doubted the Parisian result.

Raonic: “It’s kind of Novak’s Tour”

“That Roland-Garros semi-final against Alcaraz was much more meaningful. I didn’t see a way Novak was going to lose that match. The way it ended was unfortunate, but Novak had a chance there after losing his last match against him, against that dude he’s been fighting back and forth for #1 he wouldn’t let that story be written any other way .he’s too competitive and I also think he really wanted to have #23 on clay at Rafa’s event historic seen. There were enough of those things that anybody as big as Novak can say that you don’t look at those narratives, but I think you use those narratives to motivate you.”

He can’t help but smile when asked how things might have changed since he was last on tour. “When I started, the same three guys dominated the game when I left: the same. And now it hasn’t changed that much. Roger’s not in, but until recently it didn’t change. It’s been fun to see other people there, but for the most part, and in a completely unbiased sense, it’s kind of Novak’s tour.” Now he returns to see if he can challenge one last time. Raonic, as is often the case, will try to bend his body to his desire to play. A tough question, but one that remains to give him the final chapter his career deserves.

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